It has been over four months now since WWE's flagship show Monday Night Raw was extended to three hours. The momentum and nostalgia generated from the 1,000th episode of Raw on July 23rd, 2012 led to the program's biggest audience in three and a half years, averaging 6.02 million viewers. But success for the new format was very fleeting, as it soon became clear that when The Rock, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker stayed at home, WWE's current roster of stars would struggle to keep television sets tuned into the USA Network for two hours, yet alone the full three.
Struggling to keep their heads above water before the fall and the start of the NFL season, the shit hit the fan on Oct. 1st when Raw drew the lowest non-holiday ratings in 15 years. Down to a 2.5 rating and 3.5 million viewers due to stiff competition from the Chicago Bears vs. the Dallas Cowboys, the panic button was pushed, leading to Vince McMahon going on the warpath, removing the stay at home worker Bryan Gerwirtz from his position as head writer of Raw and irresponsibly wrestling CM Punk in a balls to the wall hardcore fight at age 67.
The hot-shotting provided some temporary relief, but the trend of viewers tuning out during the third hour quickly returned. This week saw Raw do close to record lows again but against a subpar NFL rating, thanks to the third hour having 650,000 less viewers than the first two hours. It's getting awfully close to the level where McMahon will start ringing the emergency sirens at WWE headquarters once again, but his room for manoeuvre is much more limited today than it was two months ago. He may have no option other than to toss in the towel on the third hour, after his attempt to find a quick fix solution to an endemic problem inevitably failed.
Evidence to suggest that either the USA Network or WWE are now at least contemplating axing one of Raw's three hours was the strange story that during the week TV listings in some areas of the country were erroneously reporting that tomorrow night's Raw would only be two hours long:
"WWE officials have confirmed to us that Raw is still three hours.
Xfinity/Comcast listings had NCIS Los Angeles on Monday from 8-9 p.m. followed by Raw from 9-11:05 p.m.
We're not yet sure what the cause of this is."
Of course, this could have been due to some innocuous clerical or technical error, but it would be highly coincidental that it coincided with such a bad rating, one so strange that it's hard to believe that it was just some random mistake. What say you, Cagesiders, is it time for WWE to ditch the third hour or do they need to hold firm and try to continue weathering this ratings storm for the increased rights fees they get from USA?